In Japan, everyone wants to become a sommelier

Mar 18 2024, 12:19
Looking at the enrollment numbers for specialized courses, one realizes the exponential growth the sector has experienced from the early 2000s to today

Entering the world of quality wine in Japan is not a difficult task. There is a great availability of excellent labels in restaurants as well as in wine shops, and one can also purchase admirably in supermarkets, finding interesting references. Above all, there is a great availability of courses that have literally exploded in the last twenty years. At the beginning of the 2000s, certified sommeliers in Japan were about 7,000. A number that has grown enormously to reach, in 2023, around 40,000 according to data from the Japan Sommelier Association, with hundreds of new experts being added every year. What surprises is the number of students seeking professional qualifications without really needing them. Studying wine in Japan, in fact, is not particularly cheap, with the WSET costing up to 720,000 yen, approximately 4,500 euros, plus the costs of purchasing bottles.

In Japan, everyone wants to become a sommelier

For some, it may be a passion for wealthy individuals, but for everyone else, a specific cultural factor must be analyzed. If there is a specific skill to master, indeed, the Japanese have a strong desire to see it formally recognized. Naofumi Kobayashi, spokesperson for the Academie du Vin, told the Japan Times that one reason for the increased popularity of wine courses might be that wine was perceived as complex and there was a belief that in-depth knowledge was necessary to appreciate it. Since today wine has become more accessible and is seen as an informal and elegant drink, public interest has increased. But he agrees that the Japanese desire to formalize learning through qualifications has played a significant role in the number of students aiming for higher qualifications.

The most accredited schools

The most important is certainly the Academie du Vin, a prestigious wine school founded in Paris in the 1970s and which saw the birth of the first Japanese branch in 1987. Among the most esteemed schools are also the Caplan Wine Academy and L'Ecole du Vin, which offer courses ranging from occasional lessons to advanced qualifications. The two main organizations with certified exams that can be taken in Japan are the JSA and the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

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